The XFL is back after a 20 year hiatus and the opening games were... fun! I thoroughly enjoyed both of the games yesterday as both nap assistance and for their actual football value. Something awesome about the XFL is of the eight teams, three have black head coaches (Winston Moss, Pep Hamilton, and Jonathan Hayes).
It’s not just with African American head coaches. The XFL offers more diversity with Norm Chow as an offensive coordinator and females as referees. Where the WWE has lacked in diversity at the top with its “Superstars,” it seems the XFL will buck that trend.
There’s also diversity in offensive scheme. Pep Hamilton and Norm Chow will be running more west coast pro style offenses, while June Jones’ Run & Shoot came out hot with four touchdown passes in their first game. And on Sunday, February 9th at 5pm (eastern) you can watch the Air Raid on ESPN. Bob Stoops has hired Mike Leach’s mentor, Hal Mumme, as his O.C. Stoops famously hired Leach in 1999 to correct the Sooners offense and Lincoln Riley, a Leach mentee, years later.
Why does the XFL or the Air Raid matter to fans of The U? Because Rhett Lashlee spent the 2019 season working for former Leach assistant Sonny Dykes. While Lashlee has never been a full-on Air Raid guy, he is a spread up-tempo spacing guy and that’s a lot like the Air Raid. Lashlee comes from the Gus Malzahn tree which at its core is a shotgun and pistol wing-t. But the Lashlee-Malzahn split has always been a rumor and innuendo conversation about Rhett wanting to throw more than Gus was comfortable with.
The NCAA and NFL (and now XFL!) football ranks are littered with Air Raid concepts (read more about the Air Raid here) in their offensive playbooks. Everyone in football runs some form of “6,” most run Shallow Cross and many run Mesh and/or Stick. Our Roman Marciante broke down a Lashlee Air Raid play from Rhett’s SMU days below (back at his old gig).
The benefit of the XFL is that fans can hear the offensive coordinator’s play call into the offense. It’s no longer just the quarterback getting the communication, now it’s the entire offense and we the fans can listen in. What should you expect to hear?
“6” or Four Verticals
There is some really good information on 6 at CougCenter (click here for a link). It’s a fairly simple concept that preaches space, option routes, and open grass. The outside receivers (X and Z) will work up the number on their sideline. If the defender CAPs the space (has the advantage in coverage alignment or personnel against the WR) the wide receiver will break off their route. On the outside, the route breaks out and away from the safety or linebackers.
The inside receivers will work up the appropriate hash to their side. If the safety CAP’s their route, the receivers will break off inside or towards the center. This keeps their route away from cornerbacks and 45 degree angle drops from the linebackers.
“6” is also a useful way to just line your quarterback up behind center and let him ‘tag’ routes. Tagging means using a hand signal to a select receiver to take advantage of a defense’s pre-snap look. If the two wide receivers are getting press man on them a QB might tag a rub concept which would force those DB’s to switch responsibilities post-snap.
“Mesh” or 92
The original Air Raid play is 92 or Mesh. It was first borrowed from the BYU offense under LaVell Edwards, and of course molded into a Mumme-Leach masterpiece at Iowa Wesleyan. You can read more about Mesh in The Perfect Pass by S.C. Gwynne (pages 135-147). Our friends at CougCenter have an entire piece dedicated to Mesh (click here).
The basis of 92 Mesh is that it beats man and zone coverage. On the right of the diagram above, you can see the Z running a ‘triad’ route. Leach often has the first option on that route to be a corner route, and the alternative options on an open middle of the field could be a post, and if the CB is playing off and in the sail or 10 yard out. I personally prefer the skinny post as read one, which allows my QB to throw it off the last step of his drop (rhythm). The mesh up is the “read” or second option in 92. The rush route, which can come at any time in the progression, is the swing from the running back.
“Y-Cross” or 95
I personally put a piece together detailing Y-Cross to y’all back in June of 2019 (read that here). Sadly the GIF website I was using threw out a lot of my old material. But the bulk of the piece is still there with diagrams. Y-Cross is a great compliment to 92 Mesh. The bulk of the Y-Cross conversation in The Perfect Pass is on pages 211-216. For Miami fans it’s especially poignant because Dennis Erickson makes cameo appearances throughout Gwynne’s masterpiece, and teaches receiver “stacking” on pages 215-216.
95 or Y-Cross is important because of it being the compliment to Mesh. When linebackers and safeties think the H is going to run a 5-6 yard route he instead breaks across the field deep and by weaving between linebackers and a safety. If enough deep balls are hit outside, the CB is chased off by the X.
The progression is the deep fade to the X as the rhythm, the read after the QB’s hitch in his drop is the Cross, and the rush route in case of pressure or as the 3rd progression is back to the RB on the swing to the opposite side. O.C.’s like having a back to replace a crossing route.
“Shallow Cross” or Ace Rip 6 H Shallow
Another core concept of the Air Raid is Shallow Cross (CougCenter has their write up here). It’s a nice mixture of Mesh and Y-Cross that gives the defense just another look at the slot and h-back or TE or second slot breaking in front of and behind a linebacker and drawing a safety down.
The first read is on the outside fade as the rhythm. From there, the read is the 10 yard dig against the 3 yard shallow route. The RB’s swing or arrow can be the rush route in case of pressure or as the 3rd option.
Stick, Screens, and other stuff
Obviously over time the offense has evolved. Dana Holgorsen runs diamond pistol looks, Lincoln Riley went full Malzahn in 2019 with buck sweeps and counter runs, and even Leach doesn’t have his offensive linemen back pedal anymore in protection. However, Hal Mumme is the originator and the most true to the system of any of the Air Raid coaches, even Leach.
Stick is a beautiful concept. If ran properly, it can be devastating. I’ve used it in Florida, Oregon and North Carolina for years now. The first read is the H on the rhythm. The second read is the back on the arrow route into the flat. The outside receiver’s “gift” route is pre-snap based on CAP (explained above).
I like Stick in 2x2 and 3x1 as the rules for the players stay the same. The h-back for me, the Y for Leach is the ‘stick’ route guy, the outside WR runs the vertical and the slot or RB runs the arrow concept.
If you’re going to throw a lot you have to use screens to slow down pressure, pass rush, and as an outside run. Lashlee is going to run the rock, but Mumme is going to try to use screens as his outside running game. The Air Raid uses a variety of screens from quick bubbles to double and middle screens. Anything and everything to get speedy WR’s in space with offensive linemen as lead blockers.
Remember the run game? Hal usually doesn’t either but he likes inside zone, draw, and the occasional stretch play. I’m spending very little time on the run game because it’s the Air Raid and I fully expect Mumme to throw 50 times a game in the XFL.
What about Lashlee?
I would expect Lashlee’s playbook, like many OC’s in the 2020’s and beyond, to include a variety of screens, mixed with 6, mesh, stick, and shallow cross. He’s also going to use a lot of the Air Raid philosophy such as tempo, spacing and option routes which leaves the QB in charge and the OC as more of a facilitator and mentor than a power hungry boss. Lashlee will give the QB the opportunity to tag routes, and he’ll teach the QB to have autonomy and freedom.
Lashlee is also going to run the ball at a 50/50 clip versus the Air Raid purists who will run the ball closer to a 20/80 clip. Lashlee likes split zone, inside zone read and plenty of other run and run-pass option based concepts. Will Hal Mumme run RPO’s in the XFL this season? I would suspect so.
I’m excited to see the wrinkles he comes up with for D’Eriq King that will look vastly different in some ways than what we see with Mumme in the XFL. But for a basic philosophy and schematic standpoint, the Dallas XFL team will have plenty for Miami fans to watch to understand the passing concepts of the 2020 Hurricanes offense.